Richmond, Va.
Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2014

The Locker 50B Gallery at VCU offers fine art inconspicuously

Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2007

Video clip: Locker 50B Gallery



When Virginia Samsel was a student at VCU, she stored most of her artwork in her locker on the third floor of the Fine Arts Building. Samsel liked to work on a miniature scale or with fabrics that could be easily folded and tucked away, so the locker was a natural place to keep all of her work. If she wanted to show someone one of her pieces, she could just visit the locker and sort it out for them. Her classmates started to joke about their friend’s gallery in the hallway.

Samsel saw not only the humor in the situation but also the artistic possibilities. So, in 2002, Samsel and classmate Llewellyn Hensley began to hold exhibitions in the locker, soliciting work from fellow artists for a steady schedule of new shows. Nearly six years later, the VCUarts Locker 50B Project is still a surprising place to find thought-provoking art.

Samsel and Hensley graduated from VCU in 2004, leaving the gallery to student volunteers to shepherd. When the stewardship of the gallery flagged, however, VCU hired Samsel on a part-time basis to run the space and curate shows. Locker 50B now boasts a brisk schedule, holding 11 exhibitions a year.

Samsel has managed to attract an impressive collection of talented artists to contribute works to Locker 50B over the years. In addition to VCU students, alumni and faculty members, Samsel has included work from well-known artists outside of the Richmond area, such as James Siena, an abstract painter who was the first professional artist to provide a piece for a Locker 50B exhibition and the first to have a piece sold from the gallery.

Currently, through the end of January, Locker 50B is hosting an exhibition of work by high school artists who were selected through a national competition.

“We’ve been able to incorporate students’ work with pieces by professionals,” Samsel said. “It’s been an interesting range of participating artists.”

Artists have approached the challenge of creating pieces for Locker 50B’s cozy confines – it measures 12 by 14 by 19 inches – in different ways.

As a student Virginia Samsel and a classmate began to hold exhibitions in her locker, soliciting work from fellow artists for a steady schedule of new shows. Nearly six years later, the VCUarts Locker 50B Project is still a surprising place to find thought-provoking art.

“Some of them create pieces particularly for the space and then others kind of scale down works that they’ve already made or ideas that they’ve already come up with,” Samsel said.

Samsel has dressed up the locker since its pre-gallery days with white, removable foam-core walls and hardwood floors, giving it a feel inside that is comparable to one of its full-sized counterparts. A welcome mat in front of the locker is rigged so that when someone approaches the locker track lights come on across the locker’s ceiling. A Plexiglas window protects the art on display inside.

Each new exhibition is kicked off with an opening reception with color-coordinated refreshments (in line with the gallery’s ironic touch) and a substantial crowd, which lingers in the hallway, taking turns stepping up to the locker for an intimate viewing with that month’s artwork.

Still, there is little to call attention to Locker 50B on most days and someone walking down the hallway for the first time would be likely to walk right past it. The unassuming nature of the locker gives it part of its appeal, Samsel said.

“One of the things that’s special about the locker is you have to find it,” Samsel said. “It’s not out in the open. It’s not an individual locker. It’s a group of lockers and one of them just happens to have something inside.”